Best Wood for Smoking Turkey

Smoking a turkey is much more involved than fixing a traditional roasted turkey.  When you smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving, you will free up your oven for all the other things you need to fix.  The most important decision to make when smoking a turkey is the type of wood used for smoking.  During the smoking process, the turkey will absorb the subtle smoky flavor.

You want a milder wood because if the wood is too strong it can take over the natural taste of turkey and could make it inedible when done.  Although hickory and oak are what most people use, you should think about a lighter wood.  They will give the turkey a mild, smoky-sweet taste.  It is great if you make a combination of the woods used to give it a distinct flavor.

It is ideal if you have the time to experiment with different wood combinations to get the right wood combination that you like.  If you are unsure about a particular wood, smell it first.  If it is too strong, then do not use it for smoking a turkey or other meat.  It will ruin the taste.

If you are a beginner at smoking meats, you should try another meat first as the turkey is a hard meat to smoke.  You have to watch the time because it is prone to overcooking. 

Wood not to use

Some of the woods that you most certainly need to avoid are cedars, pine, eucalyptus, redwood, and elm.  All of these have a robust flavor, which can destroy your turkey.  If you use any of them, you will have to throw the turkey out and start over. They are just too strong for smoking.

Top Woods for Smoking Turkey


This is a classic hardwood that many chose to smoke a turkey for many reasons.  The distinct flavor is robust, has a smoky flavor, and very forward.


When you smoke with this wood, you will give your meat a lovely golden hue and has a sweet smoky taste.

Cherry and Apple

These woods, as with all fruit woods, infuse the flavor of their fruit into the meat.  These woods are good for smoking lighter meats like turkey.  Using fruit woods, there is little risk to overpower your turkey with too much smoke flavor.


This wood is a favorite in the southern states.  It delivers the strongest of flavors to your turkey.  If the flavor is too strong, you can cut it with a milder wood.  It will balance out the effects of the mesquite smoke.  It can be overwhelming if there is too much mesquite smoke.

Wood Chunks or Chips When Smoking Turkey

Which one is the best?  Both have their disadvantages and advantages so it is hard to define which is a winner.  It comes down to a matter of personal choice.  The distinct difference between the two is the soaking in water. 

Wood chips need to be soaked in water at least thirty minutes before putting them in the smoker.  If this is not done, the chips would burn too fast before enough smoke is built.  Wood chunks do not have to be soaked before putting in the smoker.  Being large, they give the smoke a chance to build without the need to add more right away.

Even though wood chips need to be soaked first they are still the ones that most people choose to use.  When you have to add more chips to the smoker it means that you have to open the door, so this means you are losing heat and smoke each time you do.  This is favorable to the taste and quality of the mean.

At first, when you try to ignite wood hunks it can be more trouble.  Being smaller the wood chips are easier to ignite.  It may take a while to ignite and start to smoke, but wood hunks last longer than wood chips.

Heat Source

Which heat source you choose for your smoker will influence the way you produce the smoke.  Most will use a charcoal-based smoker.  This is the method that is the most convenient and easiest method to use.  The quality of smoke produced is great because of where you can place the coal and wood on top of each other.

With a charcoal smoker, make sure that you stick with natural chunk charcoal.  It burns longer and hotter.  You can use briquettes but they give off less smoke and have a pungent smell.  This smell can taint the taste of your turkey but the natural charcoal will not. Gas or propane smokers can give you the smoke you need even though there are claims that they do not.  This type of smoker is a bit challenging but with practice, it will become easier.  With this smoker, you have to use wood chunks or chips, which will need to be pre-heated before they are put in the smoker.  They will also not be touching a constant source of flame so you need to make sure they are lit beforehand. 

In Conclusion

If this is your first time wood smoking a whole turkey, it can seem intimidating.  Once you learn how to do it, you will be pleased with the delicious outcome.  The key to discovering what you like is experimentation.  Try a different combination of woods or with single woods to find out what you like best and give you the taste you want. 

You also need to remember that it needs to be smoked at a lower temperature to help prevent serving a dry turkey.  With not a lot of fat in turkey, you will need to treat it with care.  Smoke it at 225° F to get a moist turkey.  The cooking time will depend on the size of the turkey and what parts you are smoking.  Consistency is the key to having a delicious, tender turkey to serve to your family and guests.

Smoking a turkey looks and sounds complicated but it is not.  Practice will eventually give you the perfect turkey that looks appealing and tastes wonderful. 

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